PROFILE: The Brazilian has earned acclaim in recent weeks thanks to his phenomenal goal output and is in line to break Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League group stage record
By Peter Staunton
It only took Luiz Adriano seven years to become an overnight success.
He has scored plenty in the Ukrainian top flight, as well as the Champions League, since joining the perennial title holders in 2007, without making sufficient impression to be regarded as one of the continent’s most feared forwards. It appears that perception is in the process of changing.
Nine goals in only five Champions League matches this season give him a much better scoring record than both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The part he played in Shakhtar’s 7-0 dismantling of Belarussian champions BATE Borisov on matchday three was historic.
He scored five goals and in the process shattered a whole host of records. “When I joined Shakhtar, I thought of leaving a trace in the history of the club,” he told Terrikon. “I managed it. When the dream comes true, I always feel great joy. The history of the club is not an empty sound for us Brazilians.”
He scored the quickest hat-trick in Champions League history. He was the first player to score four goals in the first half of a Champions League game. He scored five goals in a Champions League match, joining Lionel Messi on an illustrious list of only two. On matchday four, he scored another three against BATE. He became the first player to score back-to-back hat-tricks in Champions League history and joined Lionel Messi, Mario Gomez and Filippo Inzaghi as only the fourth player to score more than two hat-tricks in the Champions League.
In the blink of an eye he became Shakhtar Donetsk’s all-time leading scorer, a Champions League record-breaker extraordinaire and a fully-fledged Brazil international.
“I am boundlessly happy that I have managed to go down in the history of a club that I love and that welcomed me with great warmth and tenderness,” he told Uefa.com after the game.
“For everything Shakhtar gave me, for how they helped me to grow both morally and professionally, I will not abandon them. If there is a place for me at this club I will be here until the end.”
Unlike plenty of his compatriots at Shakhtar, Luiz Adriano earned the recognition of his national team coach, Dunga, while plying his trade in Ukraine. November brought his debut against Turkey in which he played alongside old friend Willian in a 4-0 win.
The acclaim has been a long time coming. He first moved to Ukraine in the summer of 2007 for a fee of €3 million but initially struggled, despite the substantial presence of his fellow countrymen. It took him a year to score his first goal but, since then, has been Shakhtar’s top scorer every season for the past five years.
“For me the first stage of my career at Shakhtar was incredibly difficult,” he admitted to Futbol magazine. “I could not score my first goal. I had to go through it, and then things worked out. My compatriots should do exactly the same during the period of adaptation; work hard. Sooner or later, the result will come.”
He began to settle down and was on the scoresheet as Shakhtar took their first European title in the 2009 Uefa Cup final against Werder Bremen. He scored his first, most infamous, hat-trick in the Champions League in 2012 when a controversial finish against Nordsjaelland was deemed to contravene fair play principles.
He had been a continental and world champion but those successes slipped under the radar. He scored one of the goals which helped Internacional qualify for the Club World Cup final in 2006 in Japan. They beat Barcelona in the final. He scored two goals to help Brazil to a 2007 South American under-20 continental title.
At Inter, he was a team-mate of Alexandre Pato, the one-time wonderkid of Brazilian football whose career in Europe unravelled. But where Pato shone brightly and burned out quickly, Luiz Adriano is only now, at the age of 27, beginning to earn the widespread praise he deserves.
“Luiz has been developing for a long time here,” his coach Mircea Lucescu told Uefa.com. “He has improved every year and has now reached the level of the Brazil national team. I always trusted him. Everyone was leaving and I let them leave, but I kept him at Shakhtar. He is now repaying this faith through his goals and his behaviour.”
Shakhtar’s stellar Brazilians have been replaced by a new generation. Ilsinho, Jadson, Fernandinho and Willian have all departed but Luiz Adriano has remained. With those five goals against BATE he overtook Andrey Vorobey as Shakhtar’s leading scorer and now has 121 strikes for the Miners to his name.
It has been a strange, peripatetic season for Shakhtar as they play their “home” matches in faraway Lviv due to the ongoing civil unrest in the east.
“It’s hard to live and play away from our home for such a long time,” Luiz Adriano recently told the New York Times. “But in the existing situation it’s absolutely impossible to play football in our home city. We are all seriously worried about our city, our base, arena and all the people who have to stay in Donetsk.
“But despite all these troubles our objectives for the season remain the same: win the domestic title and a place in the Champions League knockout stage.”
Even in these times of uncertainty, Lucescu has one guarantee – the goals of Luiz Adriano.